Grammy Sings the Blues
I cried all the way home from Los Angeles. Leaving my newborn granddaughter after a weeklong visit was excruciating. This wasn’t what I had in mind when contemplating grandparenthood. Okay, I never really contemplated grandparenthood, but if I had, this long distance relationship would not have been part of the plan.
From what I have heard and read, the best part of being a grandparent is that you get to engage with your grandchildren on your own terms. Relieved of the day-to-day maintenance, logistics and aggravations of parenthood, you are granted the well-earned gratification of making room in your life for your grandchildren as you see fit. Almost any grandparent you approach is happy to recite the same tired old line, “I get to spoil the kids rotten and show them a wonderful time, and then I get to hand them back to their parents. It’s a perfect set-up.”
Well, goody goody for them. Those of us with children whose careers or lifestyles or soulmates have taken them hundreds of miles from the home in which they were raised, are denied the pleasure of grandparenting on our own terms. We are subject to the terms and conditions of numerous forces beyond our control.
We are at the mercy of our bank accounts. My husband and I forked over a hefty sum for our recent jaunt which involved airfare, a hotel room, a rental car, on-site parking, and meals. We’ve been invited to stay at the kids’ small condo, but I am too old and my back is too weak to sleep on a pull-out bed in my son’s office.
We are at the mercy of the airlines. Cross-country fares are expensive, and fares to places less traveled than LA are exorbitant. I ache for parents who have to fly from, let’s say, Akron to Albuquerque. And then there’s the issue of cancelled and delayed flights, and the fact that you can’t even pack a decent bottle of moisturizer if you don’t want to check a bag.
We are at the mercy of our employers. Because retirement is pretty much a luxury of past generations, especially when one needs to save for frequent trips to see the grandchildren (see budgetary issues above), many grandparents today continue to hold down jobs. There is a finite amount of time an employer will allow for vacation travel. You can argue that a visit with one’s grandchildren is a necessity of life, like air, but most employers view such excursions as vacation time.
So we must resign ourselves to being strobe-light grandparents. We get flashes of the physical and cognitive changes that occur so rapidly in young children your head could spin. Each time the light flashes we see a new child up to new tricks. What we don’t witness is the process, the delight of learning a new word or tasting a new food, those gone-in-a-twinkling moments so spontaneous they can’t be caught on film or contained on a computer screen.
For out-of-town grandparents, visits become special events. “Grandma and Grandpa are coming to stay. Break out the party dress.” We stay for several days or a week and we are in everyone’s face for hours on end. I wasn’t particularly good at being with my own children for hours on end. I want to have the kids and grandkids over for dinner on a random Tuesday evening and then send them home, gifted and fed. I don’t like feeling that I am getting on my children’s nerves or overstaying my welcome, even though they would never admit to that being the case.
There are certain facts of life our children cannot grasp until they become parents. The day my son became a father, I watched him watching his daughter sleep. Every molecule of air in the room was bloated with the profundity of his love for her. I seized the moment and whispered in his ear, “Now you finally understand how much I love you.”
And there are certain facts of life that we, our parents’ children, are unable to grasp until we become grandparents. I’ve lived away from my birth home for thirty-eight years. They’ve been a fulfilling three plus decades, replete with kids and friends and work and all the accoutrements of a well-lived suburban family life. It wasn’t until the plane ride home from visiting my granddaughter that I finally understood how much my mother has missed me and her grandsons, and how very much she has missed.
I have accepted the fact that the situation is not going to change. So I have a choice. I can look toward the future and envision nothing but an endless string of good-byes. Or I can grow up, buck up, and look forward to the hellos. What I am able to do is anyone’s guess, but as a start, I have memorized the mantra of the Out-of-Town Grandparent Club…“At least we have Skype.” It’s more than Mom had.
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